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Issue 7.2, August 2003
A recent study of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) mine action programme concentrated on the effective use of donations from political, financial and productivity perspectives. The premise of the study was that similar tasks, undertaken by a similar work force, with similar training and equipment, in the same time period, should be achieved with comparable timeframes and costs. Results and analysis of the BiH programme from the past several years are discussed below.
The continued suffering inflicted by landmines and UXO must be eliminated in the shortest possible time period; indeed, the international community acknowledges that obligation. The Ottawa Treaty, Dayton Peace Agreement and the London and Bonn Peace Implementation Conferences all form legal obligations addressing mine action that BiH has formally agreed to. BiH was the first Balkans country to destroy its entire stockpile of AP mines, with the exception of a few mines for training and research and development (R&D) allowed within the terms of the Ottawa Convention.
Underpinning the obligation to eliminate landmines is the financial support provided by the donor community to assist less affluent countries in meeting their legal and moral obligations. By removing the cause of the landmine threat quickly, other aspects of humanitarian assistance and national development such as repatriation, rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation, can proceed unimpeded in areas that were suspected of, or contained hazardous material. Therefore, the essential requirements of speed, safety, containing quality and effectiveness to address the legal, moral, ethical, humanitarian and development objectives are unquestionable.
It is essential that funds allocated for mine action, both international and national, are utilised in a balanced manner, integrating international objectives with those of the afflicted nation. Although saving lives and limbs is of paramount importance, there is also a requirement for funds to be allocated to advocacy, test and evaluation, R&D, information technology and programme management. Once global and national plans are agreed upon, it is critical that allocated funds are utilised in the most cost-effective manner. So why is it that in some cases more funding is consistently available for institutional support than for the removal of the problem? Why is it that in BiH, commercial organisations completed more tasks, destroyed more mines and cleared greater areas at dramatically lower costs per square meter than non-governmental organizations (NGOs)? If we are truly humanitarian, why do many donors appear uninterested in performance, or in monitoring or improving the effective utilisation of their funds?
While politicians, institutions and individuals talk about the slow progress of mine clearance and the decades that it will take, it is rare to hear these same groups demand more effective utilization of donations. Globally, we seem more preoccupied with international objectives such as International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA), training schools and a range of issues that rarely contribute to national programmes’ attempts to rid their country of landmines. Only a few voices have been raised in protest, claiming that the contributions provided by the international community could have, if properly directed, cleared a far greater area than has been achieved. While this study addressed a number of issues to do with background, financial, political and structural elements of the BiH programme, and proposed a more business-like response to mine action, the main emphasis was on the performance of the various types of organisations. The results of the study identified a number of negative factors, including conflicting political objectives, institutional rivalry and organisational management requiring donor support that is disproportionate to its limited output.
Data Collection and Performance Comparison
In order to undertake a full comparison between various organizations with differing methodology, structure and financial support, such as Entity Armies, Civil Protection units, NGOs and commercial companies, it was necessary to have detailed information on a range of factors. Some of these factors are not fully known—primarily because a number of international institutions and organisations refused to provide such information, while stating that they operate in a “totally transparent and accountable manner.” A number of sources confirm this fact, including recent United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and European Union (EU) studies and the failed attempts by our study team to obtain information that should have been in the public domain. However, utilising an independent database (with information from the national database as its foundation), as well as financial data and independent work collected over a six-year period (including daily performance data for machines, explosive detecting dogs (EDDs) and manual demining), a considerable amount of data was collected and analysed. In addition, a detailed study on demining accidents was also used as part of the data collection and analysis.
Comparison of the data acknowledged the differences between organizations, and a common approach was adopted in order to create a level playing field. The study avoided the complex issue of factoring, and concentrated instead on aspects that were similar, easily measurable and explainable, and that provided outputs that could be analysed. It was also recognized that commercial companies include all aspects in their costs, including profit margins, while NGOs could utilise multiple donations for the same project and might have equipment donated and/or replenished through additional donations, thus considerably reducing operational costs. In addition, because NGOs do not make a profit, it could be reasonably expected that their costs should be considerably less than those of their commercial counterparts. The study results demonstrated that this was not the case.
Selection of Implementing Groups
A number of performance-related exercises were undertaken that highlighted marked differences between various types of organisations but also noticeable similarities between organisations. The study team grouped similar organisations together and classified them as Commercial, NGO (both international and national), National NGO (NNGO), Civil Protection and Entity Armies. The individual groups are self-explanatory, but the use of two groups for NGOs should be explained. In late 1998, the Commission for Demining supported the establishment of three NNGOs, representing the different ethnic groups in BiH. They were initially supported by the U.S. State Department through the International Trust Fund (ITF). They were established to be non-profit but commercially orientated; in other words, they were expected to be both productive and cost-effective. Their results proved conclusively that NGOs can be as efficient, productive and effective as commercial organisations, but at a lower cost per sq m, if they are properly managed.
While the funding problems of the BiH programme (1997–1999) are
well known, as
are the allegations of corruption against the BiH Commission for Demining, it is sufficient to note that even after months of investigation, no evidence of corrupt action or improper use of power has been produced. However, the effects of the continuous reference to this subject by a number of members of the international community caused donors to take independent action that affected the structural components of the national programme, delaying and in many cases denying donations that had been planned to be utilised in BiH. The impact of these allegations on the BiH programme was measurable, immense and extremely negative. The results of the allegations can be clearly seen on the chart.
The allegations against the BiH Commission for Demining were first circulated in early 1999, and the impact on commercial demining was almost immediately evident. Indeed the commercial tasks, being undertaken at considerably lower costs than the non-commercial tasks, gradually fell from 312 tasks in 1998 to 108 in 2002. The non-commercial tasks increased to 177 in 1999 and gradually fell to around 133 in 2002; however, their funding increased during this period. In addition, the Entity Army and Civil Protection elements with more than 600 deminers started work in 1999. With an increase in financial support and with more than double the commercial workforce, a considerable increase in output should have taken place—not a decrease.
Other factors can also restrict effectiveness. For instance, inadequate understanding of prioritisation criteria, especially by procurement and fund managers, results in the optimum period for work being missed. This is particularly apparent in late 1997, 1998 and early 1999, when commercial funding was at its highest, yet the majority of commercial tasks were started in the worst period for effective demining. The total of all tasks started in this five-month period (1996–2002) was 1,067, while in the most favourable months, (March and April, October and November) only 726 tasks were initiated.
A separate subject is the use of funds to support institutional requirements such as schools, IMAS, IMSMA and the support of institutions that have been initiated without a cost-benefit assessment. In BiH in 2003, more finance will likely be spent supporting these institutional requirements than on the removal of mines.
Seasonal Performance Based on the Clearance Method
By adding the various performance figures of the programme, season by season or year by year, an assessment of improved or decreased performance was achieved and an average performance figure obtained. While many non-commercial organisations had machines and EDDs, the statistical data illustrates that they did little to improve performance. In a number of cases, commercial equipment was used in an attempt to improve non-commercial performance. In a large number of cases, this additional cost failed to produce a significant improvement. A separate study was also undertaken to assess the most effective methods from a time, effort and cost basis. The results illustrated that the manual and manual/machine methods were the most costly and time consuming, while the manual/EDD and manual/EDD/machine methods were, depending on the vegetation, the most effective from a cost, time and effort perspective. While the commercial organisations and the NNGOs utilised the most productive methods, the non-commercial organisations tended to prefer the more time-consuming and costly method of manual and mechanical/manual demining.
Analysis of Data: Effort
Commercial and NNGO organisations do not employ staff if there is no work, and rarely does any contract have more than a few tasks. Non-commercial organisations, on the other hand, tend to retain their staff for the complete year. This means that holidays are part of their contractual obligations. In addition, if there is not a seamless work plan (moving teams from one site to the next with no downtime), they encounter additional delays with no output (measured by sq m cleared). Most commercial and NNGOs tend to use an eight-man team, including the team leader and medical orderly, increasing and decreasing the number of deminers when necessary. In 1997 and 1998, the United Nations had teams of 20 per site, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had teams of 30 and the Entity Armies usually had teams of 10. These numbers were utilised regardless of how effective the respective demining teams were. A table of the sq m cleared, tasks completed and days to complete the tasks is detailed below.
The table illustrates the differences among the various organisations. Note the average number of days per task and the average size of the task, particularly that of the Civil Protection organisation.
Analysis of Data: Methods
Based on previous work on performance analysis, a simple comparison addressing the various methods was conducted to ascertain the improvements that both EDDs and machines, used in conjunction with the manual process, provide. If operational costs are added to the equation, then a firm understanding of what each task actually costs and the cost benefits of using an integrated approach, where feasible, was obtained. The effective use of any method depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of the management of the selected methods. Sound management of an integrated system (the use of more than one method) maintains a high safety and quality standard while improving productivity and cost effectiveness. Poor management will certainly complicate the operational control, but just as importantly, it will increase the hazard, time and effort required, negatively affecting safety, quality and cost. EDDs that are not in operational use still require feeding, husbandry and training—this simply adds to the fixed costs without any impact on productivity. One non-commercial organisation had EDDs from 1997 but has failed to use them effectively. A number of other non-commercial organisations have used commercial EDD assets, but were unable to manually prepare EDD boxes in sufficient quantity due to the low productivity of their manual demining process.
Even machines that stand idle incur maintenance costs. In commercial circles, the large outlay for purchase demands that a certain production level be obtained to offset the purchase cost or support the donor’s disbursement. In one instance, heavy demining equipment, donated in 1997, was unsuitable and rarely in use. It has been described as “52 tons of scrap.” Another donation, a 37-ton machine, cleared a mere 274,000 sq m in a six-month period (a figure that should have been achieved in less than a month) and failed to do any other work for more than a year. Both machines were donated to the non-commercial sector, and the cost of the poor equipment is included as part of the intended donation.
In 1998, a set of productivity norms was established as part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center (BHMAC) standards. Although these norms caused strong debate, they were originally intended to provide a simplistic format to illustrate a theoretical assessment. The production of performance norms was intended to guide inspectors and monitors, but the figures ended up being used in a regulatory manner. The commercial and NNGO sector’s daily performance figures, which were generally higher than the stated norm regardless of site conditions, were now controlled by these figures. The non-commercial organisations rarely reached the performance norms, so BHMAC’s standards had little effect on their daily performance.
Each task site varies in size, vegetation, soil condition and site difficulty. In addition, there are logistics and administration problems, which may vary between organisations. Therefore, each implementing organisation should assess each site separately in order to select the best method. The productivity norms stipulated the amount of work for each method. Unfortunately, the norms, rather than being used as guidelines, were sometimes imposed in an unnecessarily restrictive manner.
Results of the Analysis of Data: Mines Destroyed, Land Cleared and Tasks Undertaken
Analysis of the mine data (both AP and AT mines) revealed that in a number of cases mines were not classified by type but by the numbers found. The major hazard was from AP mines, whereas AT mines were present on only 7.6 percent of all minefields. However, the AP, AT and mixed minefield classification normally attributed to minefields is not applicable in the BiH scenario. A table of achievement covering organisation, land cleared, mines destroyed and tasks completed is detailed below.
The table illustrates a threat similarity between three of the groups (NNGOs, NGOs and the Civil Protection), while there is a slightly increased level of threat for the Commercial and Entity Armies. However, the “Mines/task (avg.)” column shows that the NNGOs averaged 17 mines per task; the commercial, NGOs and Entity Armies averaged 10–12 mines per task; and the Civil Protection organisation averaged only four mines per task and a hazard factor less than a quarter of that of the NNGOs. While the NNGOs may have had the largest number of tasks, they also faced the greatest hazard per task.
If all tasks are allocated on the highest priority basis, then it should be expected that over a period of time, all organisations would tend to be producing similar figures. However, the Civil Protection not only had, by far, the smallest task size but also averaged the smallest number of mines per task. Their figures equated to around a third of those of the Entity Armies, NGOs and commercial organisations, and a quarter of those of the NNGOs. Another interesting fact was that one commercial company that operated as both a prime and a sub-contractor destroyed more than 6,800 AP and AT mines; that is more than 31 percent of all mines found in BiH.
Cost, Threat and Task Comparisons
The conclusions on the effective use of donations are clear. While a number of facts were unknown, most of which concerned manpower and finance, the results of all the available data proves that the commercial/NNGO groups were far greater “value for money” than the non-commercial sector. A comparison of the number of tasks undertaken and the financial costs illustrates another dramatic difference between the commercial/NNGOs and the non-commercial sectors. Based on known costs, the commercial and NNGOs completed their tasks at an average cost of KM 65,098, while the non-commercial organisations completed their tasks at an average cost of KM 210,526. The comparison of the threat (based on AP and AT mines destroyed) illustrates another dramatic difference. Based on known costs, the number of mines destroyed by the commercial and NNGOs is, on average, one mine at a cost of KM 5,494, compared to one mine at a cost of KM 23,714 by the non-commercial section.
Increase in Costs, No Increase in Productivity
During the six years of the BiH programme, an understanding of the use of machines and EDDs gradually evolved. The table below illustrates the gradual introduction of mechanical equipment and EDDs into the BiH programme, initially with commercial organisations followed by the non-commercial organisations.
It should be noted that the first machine in BiH, the Bofers used by Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), was used for only a couple of tasks and has remained parked since that time. Not a single official mine clearance task has been cleared using this machine—yet more than KM 3 million was originally provided for mechanical clearance operations. In many cases, the machines/EDDs were first used by non-commercial organisations, but later a number of donors provided the items. However, machines and EDDs require considerable capital outlay and, to be cost-effective, must significantly improve productivity.
The management of an integrated policy requires experience, knowledge of the assets and a sound, business-like approach to their utilisation. What became evident was that while assets have been introduced by the non-commercial organisations over a long period of time, productivity has not noticeably increased. While commercial companies have to offset capital costs by improved productivity, donors provide non-commercial organisations with EDDs and machines but do not demand an increase in productivity and effectiveness. Therefore, there is no incentive for the non-commercial organisations to offset the cost. If assets are poorly managed, rather than having benefits (in terms of improved safety and/or quality or a greater output) organisations merely have a greater capital outlay. In effect, donors who provide additional resources such as machines and EDDs but do not demand an increase in output simply condone ineffectiveness.
An analysis of the NGO data for 2002 illustrated that several new organisations were extremely productive. Increased production was found to be a result of the commercial-style management of these organisations. In one case, a commercial company was also the owner of the NGO. In a number of other cases, the non-commercial organisations utilised commercial companies for management and/or the supply of machines or EDDs. This prompts the question of what is the difference, from an effectiveness perspective, between an NGO and a commercial organisation? Both are undertaking mine action activities and both are, therefore, conducting humanitarian work to humanitarian standards. Any humanitarian activity should also require that work be conducted in an efficient and effective manner—the only primary difference is that one works for profit and the other does not. In the case of organisations that have no experience, no equipment and no manpower, but still use highly productive sub-contractors to work on their behalf, it also raises the question of how they can be awarded accreditation, successfully pass a technical contract assessment and presumably underbid other more established organisations.
What the Mine Clearance of 34.8 Million Square Meters of Mine-Affected Land Could (or Should) Have Cost
The cost to the donor or client of commercial demining in BiH, on a range of terrains, site difficulties and various methods, fell from an average of more than KM 4.16 ($2.08 [U.S.]) per sq m in 1996–1997, to an average of KM 3.17 ($1.58) in 2002. The average price over the six-year period was KM 3.60 ($1.80) per sq m. The NNGOs, also operating in a variety of terrains and site conditions and using different methods, achieved a price of around KM 2.81 ($1.41) in 1999; their average price in 2002 was below KM 2.50 ($1.25). The average commercial costs from 1998 were under KM 4.0 per sq m. From 2001 to 2002, commercial companies averaged less than KM 3.10 per sq m (see Table 4). The results illustrate that, if the commercial companies had conducted all of the demining, the total cost for clearing 34.8 million sq m would have been KM 125.5 million ($62.7 million) (see Table 5). However, based on commercial and NNGO costs, the actual cost of demining in BiH could have been as little as KM 114.5 million ($57.25 million), instead of between KM 240 million and KM 290 million (a figure that includes additional unrecorded donations that are estimated to be around KM 50 million). This amount (KM 240 million) is for the clearance tasks and does not include the costs for the structure, mine risk education (MRE) or for mine victim assistance (MVA).
A minimum of KM 160 million (or as high as KM 210 million) has been used by the non-commercial groups. In addition to lowering costs, the commercial/NNGO option would have considerably reduced the time taken to complete the tasks, a factor deemed to be just as important than the reduction in costs, if not more important.
What BiH Demining Could Have Achieved (Based on Available Finance and Known Costs)
If the non-commercial organisations had utilised the same modus operandi as commercial organisations and NNGOs, then the estimated output for the same cost could have been greatly increased. The study was able to assess the actual costs for a number of organisations, and by so doing estimated how much land could have been cleared using the estimated funds donated by national authorities. Based on a commercial/NNGO output, and using an assessment of their salary and associated insurance costs (each group was different) the costs per sq m would range from $2.81 to as low as $2.10.
While the tables show a considerable difference between the commercial/NNGOs and the non-commercial groups, it should be noted that these figures do not include the so-called “missing” donations or the lower operational costs of the Civil Protection and Entity Armies. The facts are that the NNGO organisations, working for no profit in a similar environment, could potentially have cleared 57 million more sq m for the same amount of money, as opposed to the 11.4 million sq m that was achieved—an increase of 45.6 million sq m or 400 percent. The estimate of possible achievement brings together a combination of factors and illustrates that considerably more clearance could have been achieved had more emphasis been placed on the effective use of donations. It should also be emphasised that with properly prioritised site selection the possible increase could have been as high as 25 percent more than indicated. In other words, for a cost of KM 242 million, an estimated output of 116.9 million sq m could have arguably been achieved.
The study attempted to review every aspect of the demining process, comparing organisation types and their individual and collective demining effort. It also reviewed a number of other aspects that have an influence on effectiveness, such as the need for a balanced response to funding, the importance of timely donations and the selection of the most suitable ground conditions. In addition, an example of the various time, effort, method and costs illustrated the importance, not just of time and site selection, but also of the selection of the most effective method. In order to work effectively throughout the year, many decisions about when, where and how to work need to be made. Realistically, it will not always be possible to achieve the ideal effectiveness optimization. The study proved that at present, many of the critical elements for achieving effectiveness are not even considered. The facts are that:
The lack of a balanced, business-like approach that addresses safety, quality, productivity and effectiveness, at international, institutional and organisational levels, as well as at the national mine action programme level, is obvious. The lack of that balanced approach, coupled with the ineffective management of those responsible for implementing donations unnecessarily, prolongs the suffering of affected populations. Yet, we still obtain these donations “in the name of humanity.” If we are truly humanitarian, we need to focus more on removing the threat of landmines as quickly and as safely as possible so that affected countries can begin the long process of post-conflict recovery.
*In order to view the full study, check out www.eandii.com.
*All graphics courtesy of the author.